Sunflowers – Golden Giants
Sunflower is one of the largest and most splendid of flowers. It is valuable for its economic uses as well as for its beauty. The sunflower gets its name from the way it turns its head from east to west to follow the Sun, and its bloom looks like the Sun. The Latin name, Helianthus annum, is derived from the Greek words meaning “sun” and “flower” and from the Latin word meaning “annual.”
The flower usually grows to about two meters in height.
The bloom of a sunflower has two parts. The central disk flowers packed closely together are dark. When pollinated by insects, these smaller flowers develop into the seeds. The flowers around the outside are called ray flowers and they are golden yellow. A disk can vary from 5 to 50 centimeters in diameter and may produce from 100 to 8,000 seeds.
Sunflower leaves can be used to feed animals. The flowers produce a yellow dye. Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein and vitamin E. Milled seeds can be used to make bread, and pressed seeds yield oil, which is used for cooking and is an ingredient in shampoo, lip balm, hand cream, body lotion, and baby-care products. It is even used in the manufacture of industrial motor oil.
Sunflowers were first grown in North and South America. After Spanish explorers took the plant across the Atlantic in 1510 C.E., it quickly spread throughout Western Europe. In 1698 the Russian Czar Peter the Great took sunflower seeds to Russia from the Netherlands. Ironically, at the end of the 19th century, the sunflower was reintroduced to North America by Russian immigrants. Early settlers to the continent had not continued cultivating sunflowers as the Indians had. Today they are grown in many parts of the world.
At first, the sunflower was considered just an ornament for botanical and private gardens. But by about the middle of the 18th century, its seeds came to be viewed as a delicacy. People also used its leaves and blossoms to make a tea for combating fever.
In Chinese symbolism this flower means longevity and has magical powers.